Business communication has changed dramatically. Well-known trends in technology companies, such as the consumerization of IT, have created more casual norms.
Pushing the envelope even further, the proliferation of voice-interactive devices has fundamentally changed how people interact and communicate with technology. It’s gone beyond casual—to conversational.
Voice-first technologies provide both challenges and rich opportunities. People now expect to speak directly—and naturally—to their devices. In return, voice gives us a uniquely rich and multi-layered way to communicate that text on a page simply can’t replicate.
Wired for voice
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston, the Zello app—the digital equivalent of a walkie-talkie—became a big hit. Extensively used by the all-volunteer “Cajun Navy,” Zello allowed first responders to hear those who needed help.
The result? Multi-faceted information, conveyed immediately. As the CEO of Zello said, “In a few seconds of hearing your voice, I can guess what part of the country you’re from, if you’ve been drinking, what mood you’re in, whether you’re afraid or in distress.” He added, “Your brain is wired for voice.” Voice input with its unique inflections and tones is nuanced and intuitively richer than the typed word.
Zello is an example of a new technology that at one time might have been developed for corporate or public use—by police departments, for example—but leapfrogged its way to any consumer who wanted to simply download the app.
Consumerization of IT
As technical communicators and business owners, we’ve been grappling with the consumerization of IT for years. You likely use your personal phone at work. IT departments have been busy adapting to the reality of personal devices and social media in the workplace.
Texting and social networks are part of our everyday lives. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between work and non-work. As we become accustomed to the power, convenience, flexibility, and connectedness of consumer technology experiences, we want those same capabilities at work.
The need for speed
Consider the need for speed and brevity associated with text messages and tweets. Acronyms (ROFL, anyone?) and emojis are the order of the day. People are increasingly accustomed to a casual communication tone.
The need to simplify
As texting and tweeting require concise bursts of communication, the world is adapting. Some organizations write at a sixth- or seventh-grade reading level for maximum impact. The idea is that you reach customers who read at those levels—or higher—while also enforcing simplicity that helps you communicate messages quickly.
Conversation is powerful
OK, we’re communicating in simpler and more casual ways. Going beyond that, think about the impact of voice. Wildly popular digital assistants like the Amazon Echo reflect that conversation is now expected of device interactions. People want to speak to Alexa.
A really good conversation requires that you understand what I’m saying and that I get you. It’s personal and relational, and you don’t get that with any other kind of technology.
Rally ’round the customer
So we’ve seen communications get simpler and faster, and at the same time people want to interact with their devices in meaningful ways. How do we corporate and technical communicators meet peoples’ expectations?
In the customer support arena, the approach is customer support over technical support. We need to support people, rather than technology. It’s what users expect and get in their personal devices.
Customers have high expectations for accessing information and communication channels. They want information faster. At the same time, customers are willing and eager to use self-service support options.
Focus on the customer
In our company, we’re focusing on customer interactions. We try to write in a warm and relaxed way. The approach is to be personal, crisp, and clear, and always ready to help. Some techniques:
- Get to the point, fast. Start with your takeaway.
- Talk like a person. Use the first person, and use contractions such as “you’re” or “we’re.”
- Simple is better. Write short sentences.
- Write for scanning, not reading. Use visual tools to break up blocks of text such as bulleted lists and headings.
As our personal and work worlds continue to converge, we’re adapting how we communicate. Voice-first devices such as digital assistants are pushing the boundaries of how we communicate with our devices and are opening a rich vein of personal interaction.